Jesus's Sermon on the Law
Preached on Feb. 12, 2023
Jesus said - "You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…" Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Matthew 5:21-37
Our lectionary today has a stern message for us. Let's face it. When the word of God is preached, as Jesus did, it is easy to think it is for someone else and not for you.
Jesus's sermons are known to do that. This gospel is not a biblical lecture designed merely to inform the hearers of some exciting facts Jesus discovered. But, it can make us uncomfortable as it did the people he preached to because Jesus speaks against things that we all do. He condemns anger and resentment. He forbids quarreling, uncontrolled sexual desires, and disruption of marriages; he cracks down on disregard for sisters and brothers and speaks against the games we play with truth-telling that we try to pretty up. Jesus wants our 'yes' to be sincere, and our 'no' said in total honesty.
As part of a series of teachings, this sermon is by far Jesus' most extended explanation of what it looks like to live as His follower. Some of his hearers think he is intensifying the Law. If he is, it's a good thing. It means he is not contradicting the Law. His teaching communicates a message more profound than what the Law laid out. He takes the Commandment about a murder to another notch and teaches that it's not just murder that's bad. Everything and anything that can demean someone can result in the loss of human life.
"…….if you are angry with a brother or sister; if you insult a brother or sister; if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire."
That sounds pretty harsh, doesn't it? It means that no one can escape the hellfire because we all have been guilty at one time or the other as charged. And if you listen with a spiritual ear, you will notice that Jesus's main point is that resentment can result in hate, and IF NOT REVERTED IMMEDIATELY, HATRED CAN BECOME POTENT – WHICH MAY RESULT IN MURDER.
A story that comes to mind is the adultery story of David and Bathsheba, which started with the eyes, heart, and idle mind. The mastermind then is lust and ended with the murder of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah. If you understand how this works, then you must understand why Jesus tells us to get rid of the situations that can result in temptations – and plucking out our eyes and cutting off our hands, etc., is the best metaphor that Jesus can give.
And, by saying repeatedly, "You have heard it said……. but I say………..Jesus is on a mission to let something stick – to bring love and grace to everyone when you come right down to it. The irony is, Jesus was condemned to death as a breaker of the Law – the same Law he came to defend.
Spiritually and theologically, the necessary response to sin, large and small, is REPENTANCE. There is a choice. Moses lays it out before the people of Israel – CHOOSE LIFE (or God's ways and decrees), SO YOU MAY LIVE. Jesus is offering the same thing. He says, "COME TO TERMS WITH YOUR ACCUSER, SO YOU DON'T FACE THE JUDGE."
What this means in the context of Jesus's teaching is ‘You cannot love God and come to HIM with a heavy-loaded heart of disobedience and anger weighing you down – avoid it at all costs.’ If you want to honor HIM with your substance, do the right thing - reconcile with whom you disagree.' (Matthew 5:24).
The process is challenging and is usually surprising and humbling, but it can be ‘a powder keg’ if you carry it around, and it can explode. On the other hand, turning around can be exciting, revealing, and potentially an excellent tool for improving your relationship with God.
Jesus wants your heart more than anything else.